But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. (John 4:23)
I had lunch with my old friend, Father Doug Barrett, this week. Doug and I go back more than 30 years to a time when I was a “young priest” and he was an “old priest” in our diocese. Over the years we developed a friendship and always kept in touch. At one time Doug was the parish priest for my parents who remembered him as a kind and faithful pastor. My memories of Doug are good if not poignant, and I especially remember his care for his daughter Angela throughout her life and her death. I also remember his care for his wife, Gwen, throughout her life and her death. Some years ago, Doug moved away to New Brunswick for a few years and we never saw each other for long time until he returned to Newfoundland when he retired. And that’s when things got really interesting, because Doug has now become a Roman Catholic priest. When he was ordained I actually attended the service because as an old friend, I wanted to support him in his journey.
I guess there are some people who might question our friendship today. After all, I am an Anglican bishop, representing the Anglican Communion. And Doug, a former Anglican priest, now serves the Roman Catholic Church. I suppose such a transition could result in the end of our friendship but that has not been the case for us. I remember when Doug made his decision to become a Roman Catholic, and he sent an email to everyone on his email list. He told us he was deleting every name except those who responded and said they wanted to remain in touch. I asked to remain in touch. I felt then as I do now that some things, including religion, are not worth losing a friendship over. In fact, a good friendship should be deeper than religion.
It was great to share lunch with Doug this week and catch up on all that is happened in both our lives over the past few years. It was very special for me to realize that despite all of the changes for both of us, the friendship we shared has not changed. I am grateful for that. You see, I really do believe that a person’s spiritual journey is perhaps their deepest possession and must be respected. One of the most important things for all of us today is to respect and seek to understand the spiritual journey of others.
Doug Barrett was not the only person this week with whom I spent time whose spiritual journey is different from my own. On Monday, the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador asked me to offer prayers on behalf of Christians at the Mosque in St. John’s as we remembered those who were killed in Québec City one year ago. I was honored to take part because I believe that respect and understanding among people of different beliefs is vital for our world today. I could not have been made more welcome then I was by the Muslim community on Monday night.
My faith as a Christian tells me that I should not only respect the beliefs of others but also seek understanding. If I were to identify my favorite passage of Holy Scripture, it would be the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John, Chapter 4. As a Jew, Jesus was crossing many boundaries – religious, social, ethnic – in talking with this woman in public. And yet in that encounter Jesus offers us one of the most profound teachings in our New Testament. For there he tells us that the day will come when it does not matter if one worships at Jerusalem (where the Jews worshipped) or at Mount Gerizim (where the Samaritans worshipped); it will only matter if one worships in spirit and truth. If we accept that so much of religion is human-made (although divinely-inspired) we are also challenged to see the deeper truth underlying rituals and practices. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe that “deeper truth” to be God.
I am blessed to have friends who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist. My Hindu friends have a greeting whereby they bring their hands together and bow as they say “Namaste.” My understanding of Namaste explained by them to me is that it means, “The spirit within me honours the spirit within you.” In a world filled with misunderstanding, ignorance, and hatred, we do well to honor the spirit within each other. Regardless of our appearance, or the faith we inherit or choose, we share a common humanity. Rather than focusing upon the things which divide us, how much richer we all become when we seek the things that bring us together and honour one another along the way.
God is not only greater than we imagine, God is greater than we can imagine.